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Improving Our Air Quality

February 1, 2014


Air quality is not a new issue for Utah—in the 1920s, coal-fired stoves blackened the air. Our unique topography of high-elevation mountain ranges and low-lying valleys, coupled with the concentration of pollution results in extreme short-term pollution spikes during inversions.

During these spikes Utah’s particulate pollution ranks high in PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels. 


However, when annual averages are considered Utah scores among the best in the nation. The EPA web site called AIR NOW ( ) lists the current “worst air” on a daily basis and hourly basis. One way to compare all metropolitan areas is to compare the total number of days that any ambient air quality standard is exceeded.  In 2012, Salt Lake City— the highest in Utah — had 17 days while areas in California experienced 122 red air days. ( ) Utah also is comparatively better than most eastern metropolitan centers.

Even though Utah’s population has grown, we have significantly better air quality today than we did 40 years ago when EPA standards were originally implemented.

  • In 1971 our particulate levels were over 250. We are now at about 35.
  • We have cut annual emissions significantly during the last decade.
    • Salt Lake Count annual emissions for all inventoried pollutants in 2002, 409.098. In 2011 it was down to 217,542.In those same years PM2.5 exceedances decreased by
    • 31% in the Salt Lake non-attainment area
    • 31% in the Utah County area and
    • 50% in Cache County.

The 2012-2013 legislative Air Quality Task Force found that on an average winter day

  • Motor vehicles are responsible for 56 percent of the PM2.5 or “dirty air.”
  • About 11% of the emissions come from “point sources”—refineries, mines, large manufacturing.
  • The rest is coming from sources such as our home furnaces, restaurants, small manufacturing, retail stores, office buildings, wood-burning stoves, snow blowers and lawnmowers.
  • Vehicles are the growing source of the problem. In 2002, vehicles contributed only 47% of the average weekday emissions—Nox, VOC, SOX, Direct PM2.5.

In spite of our progress, the EPA promulgates more stringent standards every few years. The new standards move the line—so where we once met the standards, we no longer meet the new stricter standards. A yellow air day now may have been a green day just a few years ago.

Legislation is proactively addressing our air quality.

  • In 2013, the legislature passed three bills promoting clean air.
  • So far this year, the Clean Air Caucus has sponsored 15 bills and a resolution.
  • Governor Herbert has requested $18 million for air quality actions, including $14 million for bus conversions.

Real improvement in air quality will require every Utah citizen to change their behavior Everyday living necessities are responsible for 33% of

  • More use of mass transit
  • Driving lower emission vehicles
  • Less and smarter driving
  • Turning down the thermostat
  • More efficient commercial cooking and manufacturing equipment
  • Better insulated buildings
  • Changes in building codes

Enforcing these changes are going to mean more regulation (which most people probably won’t like) and more public information campaigns to help change behaviors.

Gov. Herbert has launched an initiative that encourages people to set air quality goals. The Utah Clean Air Partnership (U-CAIR) and Clean Air Utah offers tips and suggestions for families and companies to make realistic changes and set achievable goals.

We can make more improvements in our air quality, but change is dependent on individual lifestyle adjustments—not just more government regulations.



From → 2013 Interim

One Comment
  1. Sandra Mountcastle permalink

    I think there are far more critical issues to be dealt with than all this hype about air quality. The statistics don’t support all the verbiage!

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